Football: the Gift that keeps giving

The World Cup in 2018, Russia, was viewed by over 3.5 billion people. Around half of the earth’s entire population. Yes, this means that one in every two people around the globe watched the World Cup.

Ever since man looked up at the sky and gazed at the glowing fire ball we now call the sun, he was fascinated. So much so, that archaeological studies have shown proof of early societies worshipping the sun and the moon. Humans sprung into existence with an innate sense of curiosity, a drive to dream. When he saw spherical objects around him, he was perhaps intrigued by them. The use of such inanimate things to empower and propel an entire civilisation, was quite genius in itself, something we have Natural Selection to thank for.

Wheels have been quoted to be the greatest invention man ever made, given their immaculate efficiency. And yet, they’re rather taken for granted in today’s society: anyone can make a wheel. So, one must raise the question, in an age where we’ve reached the moon and are close to getting to yet another celestial oblate spheroid, why is it that kicking a ball around is the thing that connects us? Perhaps the fact that such a simple, innocent and seemingly unrepresentative game of a relatively developed species indicates the sustenance of man’s primal instincts. Think about it: fifteen million years of evolution, only to end up with a bunch of folks running around in grass like wild creatures.

As for the origins go, the oldest stories date all the way back to the second century AD, with the Chinese playing around with a little ball between a couple of people. Of course, the sport however, was internationally identified in the mid-19th century, much thanks to England’s immaculate Empire. Games that resembled football were played on meadows and roads in England. Besides from kicks, the game involved also punches of the ball with the fist. This early form of football was also much more rough and more violent than the modern way of playing. An important feature of the forerunners to football was that the games involved plenty of people and took place over large areas in towns (an equivalent was played in Florence from the 16th century where it was called Calcio). The sport was at first an entertainment for the British working class. Unprecedented amounts of spectators, up to 30 000, would see big matches in the late 19th century. The rampage of these games would cause damage on the town and sometimes death.

Things, would however, change, eventually. Newer rules and stricter regulations would make things better. The formation of certain associations would then improve the quality of games and make it somewhat fair. The game would soon expand by British people that traveled to other parts of the world. Especially in South America and India the interest in football would become big.

However primal and instinct-powered the sport may seem, some would tell you otherwise.

“Football is a sport played with the mind, the feet are just the tools,” explained Pirlo, rather famously.

Pep Guardiola, with his Barcelona team between 2009 and 2011, conquered world football. A stranger to the sport would certainly not expect the greatest ever team, arguably, to be filled with short-statured, innocent-looking men in their mid-twenties. More so, the Spain team of 2010 that lifted the greatest prize in the game, with the help of the little maestro that was Andrés Iniesta.

Guardiola is known to divide his football field into various pieces, such that it mirrors the structure of a chess board of sorts.

This way, he is able to control the game, like it is chess. So much so, for a game that is built around the premise of passion and vigour. It truly makes one think about the implications a single mind has in football. It makes one wonder about the aforementioned premise. Perhaps, humans have risen higher, perhaps, they’ve crossed the barrier of emotion, and have attained an intellectual approach to things?

But well, we haven’t. No finer way to reason this than through the recent Spygate incident of Leeds’ manager, El Loco, Marcelo Bielsa. Accused of spying on his opponents’ training grounds prior to a game, Bielsa was investigated by the EFL and the Football Association. Bielsa, then, called an impromptu press conference in his defence. The peculiarities of this conference though, ought to astonish one.

To start with, he took full responsibility of the event, and denied the club’s involvement in it. But then, he started to explain his reasons. He opened a PowerPoint presentation and went on to explain how him and his team watched all of the 51 games of Derby County from the previous season. He drew up charts–filled with numbers and statistics: record of the formation that was used for every game, the way the chances were created, individual analyses of every single player. Stats unheard of, such as: Which team was dominant every five minutes, and several other surprising figures. He then explained how he tried to look into all of it, so that he could come up with a team and tactic that had the highest probability of winning.

In the context of the vast amount of information Bielsa possessed, he questioned, does some minor data from the training ground really count? Well, it could, but it’s only just one part, the impact couldn’t have isn’t much significant, certainly. Right? For Bielsa, such is not the case. Every single piece of data matters to him, for it offers him more context about the game.

“Why do I do it? Because I think I’m stupid.”
-El Loco.

So, what’s the bottom-line? Is football really a game of the mind? When one thinks about it–it is Bielsa’s passion and pursuit of perfection that pushes him to the lengths that he goes to. Football has been man’s favourite past-time, not just because it is simple to understand and can virtually be played by anyone, anytime. Football’s rising influence on the world is rather attributed to man’s will to pour his all into something he deems special. Coincidentally, it happens to be a bloody brilliant game. Fortunately for us, we’re born in the perfect time in history to witness it.

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